HEALTH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday said mass testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country is still not feasible because of limited testing kits and accredited laboratories that will process the tests.
Some 100,000 testing kits arrived recently from abroad, but Vergeire said these are still not enough to conduct mass testing or have everyone tested.
“For now, mass testing is not in our consideration because we lack capacity. Even if we have testing kits but we do not have laboratories, we cannot do it. So we are completing the establishment of extension laboratories nationwide,” she said during a virtual briefing in Malacañang.
Luzon is under an enhanced community lockdown until April 12 due to the local transmission of COVID-19.
Close to 600 persons have contracted the disease in the country, with 33 deaths. Globally, COVID-19 has infected almost 421,000 persons globally and killed at least 18,800.
Vergeire also encouraged those with COVID-19 symptoms to go to government hospitals which she said is as capable as private hospitals in providing care and treatment to patients.
She also said at least three private hospitals have reached their full capacity due to a surge in cases. She said referral hospitals are expected to be identified by the end of the week or over the weekend to decongest the hospitals that are already full or close to full capacity. The referral hospitals would serve as “COVID-19 hospitals.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, in the same briefing, said government is now looking at establishments and facilities near hospitals, which can be used as accommodation for health workers, distribution centers for aids, or isolation areas for COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or have mild cases, or persons who are under investigation (PUIs).
To augment frontline health workers, Año said government is also considering tapping reservists to beef up the staff of some hospitals whose personnel have been placed under quarantine, while the Department of Health has launched a volunteer program that encourages medical practitioners to become frontline workers.
ISOLATION FACILITY IN MAKATI
Makati City has converted a hotel into an isolation facility for PUMs.
The Makati Friendship Suites in Barangay Cembo, where the city government houses visitors from provinces, can accommodate up to 100 patients and is equipped with medical equipment including x-ray machines, defibrillators, and cardiac monitors, said Mayor Abigail Binay.
Binay said physicians and nurses from the Ospital ng Makati will monitor the patients at the facility.
Binay also said barangay health centers in the city have also put up their own
isolation areas for persons with COVID-19 symptoms.
Makati has 20 COVID cases with two deaths, 217 persons under investigation, and 165 persons under monitoring.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan asked government to convert government-run hospitals and establishments to a COVID-19 center to address the shortage of rooms in private hospitals.
Pangilinan said that since a number of private hospitals have reached their maximum number of COVID-19 patients, it would be wise if government make use of V. Luna Medical Center, Veterans’ Memorial Medical Center, and the Quezon Institute as COVID-19 centers.
He said these hospitals have big patient capacity that they can even serve other cases like cancer, for those undergoing dialysis, and other illness.
Pangilinan said the government can also make use of Rizal Memorial Coliseum, ULTRA sports complex in Pasig City, and the Philippine International Convention Center as makeshift isolation centers for patients having mild COVID-19 symptoms.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said mass testing of individuals having COVID-19 symptoms would be better than just imposing enhanced community quarantine.
“Our lockdown is obviously working, no doubt… But it is not enough by itself to flatten the COVID-19 curve. South Korea was reported to have flattened the curve through mass testing, not lockdown,” he said.
He said the Department of Health lacks flexibility when it comes to making use of test kits donated by some local businessmen and those procured from South Korea and China which have been used in the respective countries after they were certified by their own regulatory offices.
He said a big volume of these test kits are still being held at the Bureau of Customs.
Lacson said the Food and Drugs Administration, an agency under the DoH, should have issued even provisional accreditation “which is needed so those test kits can be distributed for use particularly by those who have had direct contact with infected persons.”
“Even on a ‘do-it-yourself’ basis, so they can immediately practice self-isolation should they turn positive. In turn, this can prevent or at least minimize the spread of the virus,” he added.
Lacson said that as of last Monday, the DOH has only tested around 1,500 of the 107 million Filipinos.
He said it is the reason his amendment to RA 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” was adopted, which states that to “ensure that donations, acceptance and distribution of health products intended to address the COVID-19 public health emergency are not unnecessarily delayed and that health products for donation duly certified by the regulatory agency or their accredited third party from countries with established regulation shall automatically be cleared: Provided, this shall not apply to health products which do not require a certification clearance from (FDA).” — With Noel Talacay and Raymond Africa